Shortly after the 2017 blockade, the Qatari broadcaster was blocked to subscribers in Saudi Arabia.
An agreement to lift a Saudi ban on Qatar’s beIN Sports was reached between officials, a source told Doha News on Wednesday, as part of apparent steps of rapprochement between the neighbouring states.
While the move to lift the ban on the network has not yet been publicised officially, it is worth noting that it could lead to major developments in the sports industry—most importantly with regards to Saudi Arabia’s $400 million acquisition of Newcastle United.
The agreement had been reached more than a year ago but collapsed following the dispute between Saudi Arabia and Qatar’s beIN Media Group over illegal streaming issues. The latter owns all rights to broadcast Premier League games in the Middle East.
In 2017, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE and Egypt imposed an illegal air, land and sea blockade on Qatar. Saudi Arabia’s General Authority for Competition [GAC] was quick to suspend beIN Sports and “permanently cancelled” its license last year.
In August, 2018, English Premier League revealed that Saudi-based Arabsat satellite operator enabled pirate channel beoutQ, which stole Qatar’s beIN Sports broadcast feed, to illegally use its services.
BeoutQ broadcasted all Premier League matches throughout the Middle East without getting the rights to do so, while at the same time banning beIN from operating in the Kingdom.
In June, the World Trade Organisation ruled in favour of beIN Sports in a dispute over the piracy charges.
The ownership deal then faced public pressure given PIF’s link to Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman [MBS] and the country’s unauthorised broadcasting of Premier League games – leading to the withdrawal from the deal in 2020.
Human rights groups and fiancee of slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, whose murder in the kingdom’s consulate in Turkey was said to be directed by the Saudi royal in 2018, have continuously called on the English league to block the deal.
However, according to Sky Sports, the resolve between Saudi Arabia and the Qatari-owned beIN Sports network now suggests an announcement regarding the kingdom’s purchase of the English football team now looms on the horizon.
While there is no guarantee just yet, parties involved are expressing their hope in the completion of the deal, which will see Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund [PIF] takeover of the team at 80%, ending current owner Mike Ashley’s 14-year ownership.
The latest agreement to lift the ban was reached ahead of an upcoming arbitration in London, which saw beIN file a court case under international arbitration rules and claim over $1 billion in damages against Saudi Arabia.
In an emailed statement to Reuters on Wednesday, beIN said Saudi Arabia’s ban of the broadcaster was the reason behind its objection to the Newcastle ownership.
“We have also been approached by Saudi for them to settle our legal cases, including our $1 billion investment arbitration,” beIN’s statement added.
The purchase of Newcastle United would add the club to a list of powerful teams in the league, such as Qatari-owned Paris Saint-Germain F.C.
While this may appease eager fans of the club, it would is likely to anger global rights organisation who have accused the Saudi kingdom of “sportswashing” its crimes.